It’s been nearly a decade since there was this much hype surrounding the Spanish Grand Prix.
The last time the Formula One crowd in Spain had such high hopes of celebrating a victory by Fernando Alonso — the country's biggest racing idol — was back in 2013, when the two-time champion was driving for Ferrari.
Alonso went on to win that race in Barcelona, but since then has never been in a realistic position to make it to the top step of the podium again at home. That was his last win in F1 anywhere, and the last by any Spaniard in the local race.
The 41-year-old Alonso arrives revitalized with an Aston Martin team that is one of the surprises of the season and has been running near the top from the start. Alonso has five podium finishes in six races so far, and is coming off a season-best second-place finish in Monaco last weekend.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of the Spanish and Aston Martin fans out in full force supporting our team," Alonso said Wednesday. “I hope to see lots of green in the grandstands over the weekend. So far, we have scored lots of third places, a second place in Monaco and the next one we need is the top step. To do this we have to maximize every part of our weekend and capitalize on any opportunities that may come our way."
But Alonso said he won't be obsessed with winning at home, and will try to “enjoy every moment” of what he called a “celebration" in Barcelona.
A record crowd is expected this weekend to support Alonso and fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. More than 40,000 tickets were sold in the first few hours after being put on sale last year, and more tickets were made available again earlier this year. More than 100,000 people are expected for Sunday’s race.
Alonso, who won his F1 titles with Renault in 2005-06, is seeking his 33rd victory in the series. After coming up short of the title in 2013, he had a lackluster 2014 season with Ferrari and then struggled with McLaren from 2015-18. He spent a few seasons away from F1 before returning with Alpine in 2021, when he made his only podium appearance since leaving Ferrari in the race in Qatar.
Alonso, who also won in Barcelona in 2006, downplayed expectations ahead of this year's Spanish GP despite his good start to the season, noting that defending champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull will remain the big favorites.
“And we have to see in a normal circuit, what is the package of Mercedes and the upgrades that Ferrari will bring apparently to Barcelona as well. So we have to have the feet on the ground,” Alonso said.
The Spaniard said he doesn’t want to “disappoint anyone” by coming into his home race with too many expectations, and will not put “any pressure on my team or myself.”
“It’s going to be a few weekends in the year that we will just be seventh and eighth and we have to accept that and some others that we will fight for podiums,” he said.
Alonso is third in the drivers’ standings after third-place finishes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Miami. He was fourth in Azerbaijan.
Verstappen has a 39-point lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez and is 51 points ahead of Alonso. Verstappen won four of the first six races, finishing second in the other two behind Pérez. The Spanish GP is where Verstappen won his first race as an 18-year-old in his debut in 2016.
Sainz Jr.'s best result in Barcelona was fourth last year. He hadn't finished higher than sixth at the Spanish GP before that.
“It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to race in F1 at home,” Sainz Jr. said. “I simply love it and I hope we can put on a good show and get a good result. They can be sure I will giving my absolute best.”
The Circuit de Catalunya track will have a major configuration change from last year’s race won by Verstappen, with a chicane being removed in the final sector to revert to a layout similar to the original that was last used in 2006. The change will allow drivers to finish the lap through a couple of fast turns ahead of the main straightaway.
“I think it’s a good idea and it will be fun to race with this new layout,” Sainz Jr. said. “There was nothing really wrong with the chicane, but it’s good to try a different approach and see how it affects lap times and the race.”
Teams often bring important upgrades to their cars in Barcelona. Mercedes will finally be able to test significant changes that couldn't be introduced at Imola after the race was canceled because of floods in Italy. The changes made it to the cars in Monaco but the street circuit was not ideal for them.
“The next race in Barcelona will be an important opportunity to collect lots of data from this new baseline and extract as much understanding as we can about what the car does,” Lewis Hamilton said. ”We’ll get the real potential of the car in Barcelona and hopefully we’ll be in a great position for the next one.”
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